Wild Food Crops

Wild Food Crops

My initial take on the wild food crops looks like this. EVERYTHING is running late this year. You name it and it is true.

Apple Crop

Slightly more than half the trees have apples. The trees that have them have a lot of them. Those trees that have a good crop are also producing small apples.

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

J.E. Apple Tree With Blossoms in 2015

Most of the apples are now smaller than a quarter in size. What’s my guess as to why that is? This spring’s heavy rains took down many blossoms on some trees, but late blooming trees benefited from those rains. The trees that produced fruit produced so many that it is limiting the size. Many orchards actually pull off excess apples to enable the trees to produce bigger fruit.

Another two or three weeks will tell us much more about the size of the crop and the fruit.

Acorn and Beechnut Crops

It’s too early to draw any conclusions about the acorn and beechnut crops. I have seen both very small and some larger acorns along with some trees that have no crop at all. Again, mid-August will be a better time to assess things.

Berry Crop

The good news for the bears in particular is that the blueberry crop is both big and late. The rains have made the berries big but ripening late by (you guessed it) about two weeks. The field at J.E. is loaded with low-bush blueberries. Wild red raspberries are also in great supply now.

That did not stop a bear (or bears) from hitting John’s feeders again last night, which he forgot to bring in. Which makes me renew my question: Did they smell the seeds, or do they check his yard every night in hopes of finding food? I think it is the former. Although birdseed does not have a very strong scent, it certainly is strong enough for them to smell it from great distances. They ALWAYS show up the night that you forget to bring in the feeders.

The rains produced a bumper crop of many kinds, including bulb plants, like iris that bears also love. Remember my video of them eating iris at the swamp?

I have not come across much mountain ash yet to assess that crop.

The highbush cranberries appear to be having a good year as well.

WLAGS

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The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

The Big Doe of Bemis Hill

Back in March of 2014, I wrote a blog post called “Opening Day 1965” in which I wrote the following:

I got only a glimpse of this big old doe as she bounded off. As it turned out she and I would have several encounters over the next two years. She taught me more about deer than all the other deer I would come across the rest of my life. But that’s another story.

Now is the time to tell the story of the big doe of Bemis Hill.

It is unlike me not to give this deer a name. I guess I didn’t because I didn’t want to humanize her. She was a deer after all. She was smart, but more importantly she utilized all of her senses to elude me and others. It was her senses that she taught me most about. Here are just three of the lessons that she taught me.

Lesson #1: Assume That a Deer Is Already There

First, I’ll elaborate on that very first time that I saw and heard her. Yes I said *heard* her. Not her footsteps, but her blowing or “snorting,” as it is called. It was my very first morning of hunting this area. I had just completed an arduous uphill hike to the same spot where everything I mentioned previously happened.

It was long before sunup. It was very cool, foggy, and consequently quiet. I was cramped up from sleeping in the front seat of my Falcon that night. I got to the spot where the tote road meets the field, which again I had no idea was there.

I was all consumed with the picture perfect place I was gazing on and realizing that this was a hunter’s dream come true. Suddenly I was startled to my core as un unbelievably harsh and loud sound emanated from the tree line directly in front of me just on the edge of that tree line.

It was this big doe snorting at me….repeatedly. She snorted at me more times than I can count. Then, as if to flip me off, she whirled and threw that huge white tail right at me.

This would be the first of many such encounters. She greeted me with her snorts and stomping hooves many times over the next two years. It got so that I looked forward to it each and every Saturday and Sunday morning for six weeks for the next two seasons.

I’m not kidding when I say that I missed that sound in the coming years. I am confident that she lived to a ripe old age. I only saw three other hunters there that first season, and two of them were gun hunters, who were not allowed to take does.

I saw another bowhunter that first day, but I never saw another hunter near there for several years. When I did see other hunters, I never saw them return.

Lesson #2: Don’t Fall for the Head-Fake

Then there was the one morning during the early part of a subsequent archery season, which was in mid-October in Vermont in the 1960s. I was coming out of the woods for lunch when I saw her just inside the woodline of a mature pine grove that bordered a substantial hay field. This was her turf. She knew every tree, every sound, and certainly every scent.

She did not see me, but I could tell by her very rigid stance that she knew that I was there. I also knew that I had the wind in my favor.

She was facing into the light breeze, but I assumed that she heard me walking along the tote road. It was late morning, and I was hungry so I paid little attention to my footsteps. She was about 40 yards from me on my right. I felt very comfortable that without a shift in the wind, she would not bag me.

She never moved a muscle for what seemed like several minutes. I was also feeling good about the situation because I knew that her trail of choice was about 20 yards in front of me. If she felt nervous at all, she would certainly take that trail for several reasons. First, she knew that she just traveled it without incident. Second, it would be very quiet because it was so well worn, and she knew every twig along it.

Next came my first bit of schooling for the day. She put her head down, and I took advantage of that to shift my feet to get into a more comfortable shooting position, but she no more than lowered her head when she snapped it back up in a split second. In so doing, she caught the movement of me shifting my weight. This is a common trick that deer use. We call it the head-fake.

At that point, she knew that she heard something, and she knew the direction of the sound. What was she going to do? Again she was to my right, facing in the direction where I just came from. I swear that I could read her thoughts, or instincts, if you prefer. She felt vulnerable, but she knew better than to panic because she was unsure of the intruder. Her plan was simple. Put the big pines between her and me. She turned 90 degrees to her left, and I was looking at her butt.

She then *very* quietly put one hoof in front of the other, put her head low, and went behind the two-foot trunk of the big pine. I immediately raised my recurve bow, anticipating her turning more to the left and probably trotting up her preferred trail.

Sneaking Doe

Sneaking Doe

I stood there looking at the left side of the pine for five minutes with my bow raised. Finally I dared a peek to see what she was doing. She was gone. To this day, I cannot believe she crossed that open field without me seeing her. I went to the spot where she was standing, and sure enough there was her track and trail going through the hay.

Example #3: You Can’t Sneak Past Someone in Their Own House

One time, in an effort to mess with her, I circled the field from a trail further south. I hoped that this maneuver would give me the advantage of surprise. She bagged me anyway. As I came along the trail from the opposite direction, after an additional 30-minute hike, she simply stood perfectly still and watched me “sneak” past her. She then blasted me with her signature snort. I can’t print the words that came to mind at that moment.

Each of my encounters with this doe taught me something. It is easy to read a book or an issue of Field and Stream magazine and to try and adapt the author’s experience to your situation, but *every day* in the woods is unlike any other, like snowflakes and fingerprints. You might be able to duplicate a situation, but never all aspects of the event–weather, wind, temperature, sunlight, clouds, and very importantly the moon and its phases. They each play a major role in how the natural world functions every day.

 I will be forever grateful to that nameless doe for all that she taught me. Because of her, I was a lot more successful hunter over the next almost 60 years, and a much more appreciative one because of her.

WLAGS

 

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 4

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 4

The next morning (our last) found us back in the stretch on the upper Magalloway where the big trout had been the evening before. He or she must have fed all night and decided to sleep in. That fish never showed. Some of his or her offspring were more cooperative, and we caught and released a couple average-sized brookies.

My 10-Inch Brook Trout

My 10-Inch Brook Trout

It was a beautiful morning, except for the clouds of mosquitoes and black flies. This was not the norm. Usually when we fish here at this time of the season we only have to contend with the mosquitoes, but I think because of the late spring, we had to deal with the black flies as well. We were however encouraged by what we saw and made plans to return that evening.

Beautiful Morning = Bad Fishing

Beautiful Morning = Bad Fishing

Later in the morning we dropped downstream in hopes of finding some feeding fish. We did but they were all fallfish.

Tony's 7-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 7-Inch Fallfish

We returned to the upper Magalloway that evening in hopes of getting another shot at that big brookie, but it never showed up. In fact, despite adequate insects hatching, the rises were few and far between. We did manage another average-sized brookie each.

8-Inch Brook Trout

8-Inch Brook Trout

It probably does not make sense to a non-fisherman, but the highlight of our trip was that missed fish. Why? Because in my lifetime of almost three-quarters of a century, I have seen very few brook trout of that size. The only ones I have seen, I had to travel hundreds of miles at great expense and physical effort to accomplish in Labrador.

It is even more special knowing that this trout was not born in a hatchery, but instead was born in this beautiful river surrounded by these incredible mountains.

The Cloudy Sunset Behind the Mountains

The Cloudy Sunset Behind the Mountains

I am very happy knowing that that fish is probably still there, and I can’t wait until September in hopes of fooling him with a grasshopper fly.

Grasshopper Fly

Grasshopper Fly

So despite the low number of fish landed, it was a most productive and rewarding Father’s Day weekend, and I will cherish the memories of it.

WLAGS

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 3

On the third morning we put the boat in Aziscohos Lake near the inlet of the Magalloway River. To get there, we needed to drive about 16 miles down dirt roads.

At one point, we came upon a doe standing in the road, licking it to take in the minerals, much like a cow does with a salt lick. Unlike all the moose that we saw, she was not very skittish at all. In fact, she was reluctant to leave the road. We needed to drive right up to her before she would scamper off into the woods, which she did very slowly, giving Tony a chance to take a few pictures of her. One look at her ribs made it obvious why she was so reluctant to leave the mineral-rich dirt road.

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

It Was a Long, Hard Winter for this Doe

This is what a deer looks like even several weeks after 17 feet of snow has melted. That’s not a typo. They received 17 feet of snow this winter.

As we were preparing to launch, we met the new warden in the area, Officer Egan. After we exchanged pleasantries, we offered to show him our licenses, but I assume after our conversation he knew that we were legal. Besides, he was far more interested in some campers that were camped right under a sign that said, “No Camping”!

It was a beautiful morning, which inevitably makes for tough fishing. We each caught a small brook trout.

Tony's 8-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 8-Inch Brook Trout

A loon was also fishing for those small brookies.

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The Loon That Was Fishing With Us

The highlight of the day was seeing a mated pair of bald eagles feeding their eaglet on the nest.

The Eaglet Being Fed

The Eaglet Being Fed

That evening, we went to the upper Magalloway River. There were fish rising, but they were very fussy. These fish no doubt had seen many a fly in their day as this stretch of the river has strict fly fishing only, catch-and-release, and barbless hook regulations.

One of Many "Fly Fishing Only" Signs on the Magalloway

One of Many “Fly Fishing Only” Signs on the Magalloway

It became obvious that there was one very large brookie occasionally feeding in the pool. Knowing that too much activity would put them down, I stopped casting in hopes that Tony could get that big brookie to take. Tony carefully measured his casts so as not to let that fish get a glimpse of his fly line.

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

Tony Casting in the Upper Magalloway

It worked. After several casts and a perfect drift came the unmistakable sound of a big fish rolling on the fly. Up came Tony’s rod with a deep bend in it from the weight of the fish, but almost as quickly it went limp.

The good news is that that miss did not seem to deter that fish from feeding. Tony stayed there until last light, as did the fish. Once darkness set in the air cooled, the flies stopped hatching, and the fish stopped feeding. Both Tony and the fish called it a night.

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

The Magalloway After Sunset That Night

As we made the long trek home, we saw five moose (including three calves), a doe, and a red fox.

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

One of Three Calf Moose We Saw That Night

WLAGS

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 2

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 2

Monday would be our first full day on the water, or I should say “waters,” as we changed spots a few times.

We started out by heading to the Magalloway River—one of the most iconic native brook trout rivers in the lower 48.

Along the way, I was hoping to show Tony his first bluebird. Unfortunately, with everything being a few weeks behind schedule due to the cold, wet spring, the bluebirds hadn’t yet arrived. Swallows were in the bluebird boxes instead. With his 300mm zoom lens, Tony was able to catch some cool photos of a male swallow handing off a large, white feather to a female as she prepared their nest. At one point, the male dropped the feather and was able to swoop down and catch it before it hit the ground!

Nesting Swallows

Nesting Swallows

As we drove by the Mailbox Pool on the Magalloway, a very famous spot on the river, we saw only two vehicles parked alongside the road. It was a Monday morning, but still only two vehicles was a great temptation. I have driven by this place countless times, but never fished it because it is always being fished hard by talented fly fishermen. We had to stop, at Tony’s insistence, if only to be able to say that we have fished it.

We passed a group of three fishermen that appeared to be a three-generation group, and they informed us that the gates of the dam had been opened the night before. That meant that the river would be unfishable. We went and checked it out anyway. We took a few casts, but those guys were right; the water was flowing at 635 feet per second (fps).

The Famous Mailbox Pool

The Famous Mailbox Pool

So we headed for the upper portion of the Kennebago River. It was another place we had never fished, despite having fished the lower portion many times. I had heard that this upper section would hold many smaller brookies and salmon. Like everywhere else, the water levels were up there as well. It was a beautiful stretch of water.

Upper Kennebago River

Upper Kennebago River

It was nice to see after traveling 15 or so miles of rugged dirt road.

Logging Trucks on One of the Many Dirt Roads

Logging Trucks on One of the Many Dirt Roads

Despite the high water, Tony landed two nice native brookies.

Native Kennebago Brookie

Native Kennebago Brookie

That evening, we swung by the dam again. We managed to catch a few smallmouths and fallfish to end the day.

Tony's 10-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 10-Inch Fallfish

WLAGS

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 1

The Annual Father’s Day Fishing Trip: Day 1

Well, this year’s trip got off to a great start. We stopped by the Errol Dam on Sunday evening, shortly after we got settled in our cabin. It didn’t look promising at all, as there were no fish rising in the middle portion of the river where I was, and only a few showing on the east bank where Tony was. So, to say I was pleasantly surprised by the following event would be an understatement.

I made two blind casts (no particular target) with no sign of a fish. My next cast was at the base of the dam. The #14 Elk Hair Caddis drifted into a seam that brought it within a few feet of me. Suddenly there was a splash and a miss on the fly. I repeated the cast two more times with the same result. I made my next cast a little more to the far side of the fish so as to give him a longer and better view of the drift. It worked. This time the fish took the fly going dead away from me. I could see the dark and pointed head as he grabbed the fly going away.

I knew instantly that it was a salmon. He did what a salmon does, jumping two feet into the air after being hooked. I saw him clearly then and turned to get Tony’s attention, but he could not hear a thing over the roar of the river. Finally, he looked up and at me just as the salmon jumped again. Tony knew at that point that his help would be needed to net this fish in that current. He made his way over the sluiceway to me just as I brought the salmon to the edge of the rocks. A minute later the salmon was in the rubber net.

20-Inch Landlocked Salmon

20-Inch Landlocked Salmon

We guessed it was 20”. We didn’t have a ruler with us, but we grabbed a stick and broke it to the fish’s length. Back at the truck the stick would measure 20”+. We gave the fish some time to revive and then released him back to the river.

Releasing the Salmon

Releasing the Salmon

We had seen two deer and a moose on our way up that afternoon. We would see another moose on our way back to the cabin that evening.

It was a great start to our trip.

WLAGS

My Day as a River Helper

My Day as a River Helper

On Sunday, June 9, Tony and I took part in program called Casting for Recovery to help 14 ladies that are all breast cancer survivors to celebrate a new lease on life.

We were told that this was the first such event to be held in New Hampshire, but it was one of about 40 being held nationwide.

I was invited to take part by my primary care physician, and as soon as Tony heard about it, he said he would love to participate as well. There were 14 helpers; the goal being to a have one-to-one helper-to-participant ratio. Fly fishing really is taught best with that one-on-one system because the teacher needs to watch the student intently.

The River Helper and His Student

The River Helper and His Student

The setting was on a local trout pond, and the only observers were a few kayakers and a bald eagle. It was a beautiful day to have such an event. The sky was crystal clear, and it was warm with only the slightest hint of a breeze. However, fly fishing at this time of year in those gorgeous conditions was not going to yield many fish. We were all aware of that, and we accepted that premise upfront. Most of the ladies had fished before, but most had never held a fly rod until this weekend.

Tony's Participant Brenda Makes a Cast

Tony’s Participant Brenda Makes a Cast

I often have thought of fishing as being therapeutic, and this was more evidence of that. It can and does provide both physical and mental relief when needed. It was suggested that the casting motion was also good exercise for the recovery of muscles after surgery. It was also meant to be a bonding experience for the participants, and I feel it succeeded in that for sure.

The 14 Participants Bonded

The 14 Participants Bonded

This was the last of a three-day weekend for them. On the previous two days, they were given casting lessons and some fly-tying lessons as well. So this was going to be their first attempt at putting what they learned to the test.

It was emphasized to us, the river helpers, that this was not about catching fish, but rather about having a good time, laughing, and presenting the sport to them in such a way that they could judge for themselves whether they thought they might like to expand their interest. I think we succeeded in those goals. We did manage to catch a few small fish, and they were very much appreciated by all.

Just Enjoying the Water

Just Enjoying the Water

The ladies were very enthusiastic to say the least. They cheered each other’s accomplishments as if a small fish represented a Super Bowl win. They were patient, attentive, and always smiling. I know I left there with an appreciation for their inner strength and their zest for life. I got at least as much out of this experience as did my student Michelle, I’m sure. Tony felt the same way about his student Brenda.

Brenda and Tony

Brenda and Tony

We got to enjoy a great lunch together after the fishing was done. That further bonded us together.

A Hardy Lunch for a Hard Day's Work

A Hardy Lunch for a Hard Day’s Work

I asked Tony at the end of the day’s events whether he shared my thoughts about the day’s success. He said that he enjoyed it and would certainly consider doing it again.

That’s a good thing because we were told by the organizers that we would be called on next year for sure.

WLAGS